HAS ANY POLITICIAN making a nationally televised official response to a presidential State of the Union ever had the buildup that Florida Senator Marco Rubio had Tuesday night.
Most politicians in that position are lucky to have a paragraph about them in that day’s newspaper.
Rubio had his face plastered on the cover of Time magazine all over America, with the word “savior” in nice bold letters.
So Tuesday night, the expectations on the 41-year-old senator were unlike any that have ever been placed on someone in his position.
Marco Rubio may have taken a big lead in the 2016 Republican race for the party’s nomination, introducing himself to the country as “the Hispanic Obama,” the man who could be America’s first Latino president.
Or he may have ruined his chances, not by failing in his response to the president but by exposing himself as the man to beat and the candidate that other Republican and Democratic presidential wannabes alike will now attempt to marginalize, criticize and tear down.
For Rubio as a political rising star could now find himself like the mythical Icarus, flying too close to the sun and soon to crash.
But how can you not like what he did, delivering the official GOP response twice, in English and in Spanish, eloquently and talking about the middle class like someone who knows what it’s like to feel lucky to be there.
What was it he said?
“This opportunity – to make it to the middle class or beyond no matter where you start out in life – it isn’t bestowed on us from Washington. It comes from a vibrant free economy.
“Presidents in both parties, from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan, have known that our free enterprise economy is the source of our middle class prosperity. But President Obama? He believes it’s the cause of our problems.”
Hi-yo, Silver! was all I could say and wonder, watching him, what the Republicans were thinking last year in not taking a chance in having him as Romney’s running mate. Not because he’s Hispanic or bilingual or looks really good in a suit.
No, because Marco Rubio came across as committed, as the kid you watched growing up next door, as the young man you would want your daughter to bring home or the guy you would pick to be your son’s best friend.
When he reached down and chugged from a water bottle, he seemed real. When he talked about his immigrant roots, about his parents, about his middle-class neighborhood and neighbors and their concerns about Medicare and making ends meet, well, you’re not going to hear that from too many politicians.
“Mr. President, I still live in the same working class neighborhood I grew up in,” Rubio said. “My neighbors aren’t millionaires. They’re retirees who depend on Social Security and Medicare.
“They’re workers who have to get up early tomorrow morning and go to work to pay the bills. They’re immigrants, who came here because they were stuck in poverty in countries where the government dominated the economy.
“The tax increases and the deficit spending you propose will hurt middle class families. It will cost them their raises. It will cost them their benefits. It may even cost some of them their jobs.”
The rhetoric was nothing more than Republican rhetoric, of course, and moments like this are more than just about the words. Moments like this are about the imagery, the style and the presentation.
In the television-plus age of multi-media, the moment is also beyond talking heads and more about charisma and how people move you or don’t.
Don’t take my word for it. Rubio was following a president who nine years ago excited America in a televised Democratic National Convention speech of which no one can honestly tell you what he said but they certainly remember his lasting image and the moment.
So is Marco Rubio the Republicans’ savior?
Well, the Democrats will need to step up in kind.